From the Book
The main lesson from chapter 3 is that following God and doing God’s work is not always easy. In fact, it can be quite difficult, creating conflict in relationships and within our own selves. For Paul, following Christ was an unlikely and controversial path. As Saul, he had a reputation for persecuting Christ-followers. Society expected him to behave in certain ways and uphold certain rules. But in his new life, Paul was about being and doing the unexpected. What factored into Paul’s ability to face the adversity of his new life and purpose? In this chapter, Rob gives some suggestions:
- It took many years of inward preparation and personal discernment, followed by the encouragement of others (e.g. Barnabas) for Paul to be spurred into action (pg. 53-55).
- Paul’s ministry increased as the Christian community opened to accept him and to trust that God was at work through him (pg. 55-57).
- When facing pressure from societal norms, surrounded by loud voices of discouragement, Paul and Barnabas stay the course. Even under the threat of physical harm, they remember that the way of Christ is shaped by a cross (pg. 57-59).
- Paul recognizes that obedience takes effort (pg. 59), following requires letting God lead (pg. 60-61), and full reliance on God means admitting one’s own weaknesses (pg. 61- 62).
- Paul finds opportunity where others might only see obstacle (pg. 63). He trusts that God the Creator can turn conflict and chaos into something good and purposeful (pg. 63-64).
In what ways have you been tempted to follow what others expect, rather than what God calls you to do? When have you faced adversity because you were trying to do the right thing? Have you ever discouraged someone from doing what they felt called to do, because you thought it was not “normal”? Have you ever created obstacles for others?
From the DVD
During a stop in Antioch, the place where followers of Christ were first called “Christians,” Rob explains that saying “yes” to God is not always easy. The people who formed that first church in Antioch came together out of a shared experience of persecution, yet they showed an extraordinary willingness to accept—and even encourage—one of the very people who once persecuted them. With their encouragement, Paul said “yes” to a call, knowing it would not be easy. He sought to live out God’s purpose, despite what people might think, despite chains, and even despite a very real threat of physical harm. Paul and Silas sang joyfully while in prison, and the jailer was moved to follow Christ. God was at work even there. Paul found purpose, “not in spite of adversity,” Rob explains, “but because of it.” Our weaknesses, the conflicts we experience, and any adversity we face can have purpose, when we follow God’s lead.
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 11:24-30, 12:9-10
Read in isolation, 2 Corinthians 11 makes Paul sound like either a boastful jerk or a madman. Seen through another lens, his words hold a message of great encouragement and explanation. Let’s not forget we are reading Paul’s mail when we read his letters to the Corinthians. It’s personal. In this passage, Paul explains to the Corinthians that, while he did not experience everything Jesus’ twelve disciples faced, he endured his own challenges and suffered for the cause. This is one of his I-know-what-I am-talking-about speeches. He seems to say, “I put a lot of sweat and tears into this, and I really do believe this stuff.” He reminds the Corinthians that suffering and facing adversity can be purposeful. Good can come out of it. In fact, God’s power, strength, and amazing grace is often highlighted most when we humbly admit and show our vulnerabilities and true selves. Do you remember studying Greek philosophy in high school history or literature classes? Paul uses a common literary tool found in Greek tragedies; he uses irony to make his point. After all, he is writing to the Greek-speaking and Greek-influenced people of Corinth. Take this paraphrase of Paul’s words: “I am boasting, but ironically, it is about my weaknesses. I am a fool, but ironically, I have great wisdom to share. I have suffered, but ironically, it brings me joy. I am weak, but ironically, it illustrates that God is strong. I might be imperfect, but ironically, God can use me.” The phrase, “God does not give you anything you cannot bear,” is a dangerous and common go-to phrase. Does God create and put the hardships and obstacles in our lives to teach us something? Or rather, is Paul speaking of a Creator God who makes meaning out of mess, life out of chaos? Paul’s words are a reminder that when we give our messiness and true selves, as we are, God can do something with it. We are not called to do or be something unrealistic and other than; we are called to bring our true selves, wholly vulnerable, weak, and imperfect, knowing God will do what is unexpected. This passage also reminds readers that people from whom we expect little, just might be the ones God uses to create the most.
Creator God, you formed good out of chaos. Help us to see that you are creating still. Create in us and in the world around us. Help us find opportunity to do good, to love, and to shine your love where others just see obstacles. Help us say, “yes,” when the human standard is “no.” Amen.
May the God who brings life out of death, and goodness out of adversity be with you today and every day.